Susan Benson first became involved with the Fresh Air Fund’s Volunteer Host Family Program in 2000, after reading an article published in the New York Times. Susan said she was originally compelled towards supporting this type of program because she “had an incredible childhood” and saw this as an opportunity to extend her positive experiences to others. After some independent research of her own, Susan concluded that the Fresh Air Fund was the perfect program to achieve this goal.
An independent non-profit, The Fresh Air Fund provides thousands of children from low-income communities in New York City the opportunity to partake in a free summer vacation each year. The program has been running since 1877, and over the years has serviced more than 1.7 million children. An estimated 4,000 children participate in the Host Family Program each summer, living with host families in rural, suburban, and small town communities in 13 states and Canada. An additional 3,000 children attend one of five summer camps on the Sharpe Reservation near Fishkill, New York.
Since reading that New York Times article 13 years ago, Susan and her husband Victor have hosted five different New York City children (with most of them visiting more than once) at their home in East Hampton, and Susan has even become a volunteer leader in the area. During their visits, Susan and the children stay very active, making sure to take full advantage of the various activities the Hamptons have to offer. According to Susan they “go on fishing trips, go to the pool, beach,” and often go clamming, among other things. While the Bensons don’t have any children of their own, they invite nieces, nephews, and family friends over every summer to help generate a well-rounded experience for the Fresh Air children. Susan also helps the children make arts and crafts projects, and takes plenty of pictures so that they have mementos of nostalgic value to bring home and help them cherish the experience in the future.
What is especially remarkable about Susan Benson is her authentic dedication to the children she hosts and her earnest efforts to maintain a relationship with them after the summer is over. Susan doesn’t seem burdened by the children or the experience at all, and she maintains that as “a host parent, we get more out of the program than the kids do.” It’s easy to see that she genuinely cares about children and their positive experiences, professing that the time she took one of the children, Andre, on his very first fishing trip is among her fondest memories. For Susan, being a host to these children is about more than just fulfilling an obligation to society; it’s about developing and maintaining valuable relationships. While many host families stay in touch with their Fresh Air children throughout the year, Susan goes above and beyond, hosting them during holiday breaks, and even occasionally inverting the program and paying the Fresh Air children a visit in New York City.
The Fresh Air Fund, an independent, not-for-profit agency, is always seeking host families to enable as many New York City children as possible to benefit from a summer experience outside of the city. To learn more about how to become a host family in the Hamptons, contact Susan Benson, the local volunteer leader for the Suffolk East area at 212-945-6261 or visit www.freshair.org.